Ulupaina Trail: A Short Loop in the Windward Koolau Foothills

Puu Maelieli is one of my favorite trails because it’s short and the views are nothing less than stellar. When I found out that another hiking trail could be accessed just across the street from the Puu Maelieli trailhead, I said to myself, “well, I’ve got to do that one!” And so I did. This trail is officially called Ulupaina and although the view is not as spectacular as Puu Maelieli, it does offer a nice workout.

Flora. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

As far as parking and trailhead access, you can basically follow the same set of directions used to access Puu Maelieli. You’ll once again park on Hui Iwa Street near the McDonalds. After parking your car, you will walk down the hill and toward Kahekili Highway, however, instead of turning left toward the Maelieli trailhead, you will cross Kahekili Highway toward the Valley Temples. Once you’ve crossed the highway, turn left and walk toward the pet cemetery. The pet cemetery runs parallel to the side of Kahekili Highway heading east. Walk to the end of the pet cemetery (across the street, you should see the trailhead to Puu Maelieli). You will literally walk into the bushes at the end of the pet cemetery. Of course, there will be ribbons there waiting for your arrival.

Occasionally, this view pops up as you work your way up. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Jungle in Kahuluu? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The trail is very well marked with pink ribbons. After a few minutes (~5 minutes), you will reach a junction heavily marked with ribbons. Ulupaina is a loop trail, and therefore, no matter whether you choose to go left (clockwise) or right counterclockwise), you will end back at the junction when you finish. On this day, we decided to go left (clockwise). The counterclockwise path is actually very inviting because of the many ribbons that point you in that direction.

Turning left, the path was mostly flat. Actually, I kept thinking about how great it would make as a running trail. Although the trail does narrow at some parts, it is generally very open. Most of the first hour involves contouring the mountain on a flat trail with little noticeable elevation gain.

Joel sitting at the junction that will take you home. To his right is the way back to the pet cemetary. To the left is the way to the powerline lookout. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This is the same junction that joel is sitting at in the above photo. Go straight up here and it will lead you to the powerline. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Satellite Station near Haiku Stairs? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

After about 1 hour or 1.5 miles, you will again reach a junction. This time, we hooked a right at the junction. At this point, you will notice that the trail will gain elevation very quickly. From this point, it will be a steep climb up to the ridge line. As you work your way up this steep climb, be sure to occasionally turn around to take in the views of Kaneohe Bay. The views from the top are somewhat obstructed and so the best views might be seen as you work your way up to the top.

Once you’ve reached the ridge line, you will again reach a junction littered heavily with pink ribbons. You can either turn right en route home, or continue straight on the ridgeline toward a powerline at the base of the Koolau Mountain Range. As you walk toward the powerline, look left and hopefully you will be able to make out the satellite station at the top of the Haiku Stairs.

Nice lines. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Looking toward the powerline. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This is the view from the powerline lookout. It’s obviously a mix of nature and modern living. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The view from the powerline is a bit anticlimactic. From here you will have obstructed views of Kaneohe all the way to Kahana Valley. Chinaman’s Hat will be staring at you from a distance. Opposite of Kaneohe town will be the cliffs of the Koolau Mountain Range. During our entire time up there, we could here the gong from a temple located directly below us. Toursits banging the Bon-sho (Sacred Bell) at the Byodo-In Temple?

Once you’ve had your fill at the powerline, turn back toward the last junction that you left earlier. This portion of the trail is a bit more open than the first half of the trail. Safely work your way down as the descent will be a steep one. In my haste, I slipped and fell right into a thick branch that was sticking out of an old tree stump. It gauged me on the left side of my chest. If that branch was any sharper, I’m sure that it could have lodged itself into my left torso. Fortunately, I left with only a deep, albeit painful, gash.

Rainbowman Laredo left his mark on the Ulupaina powerline. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This is another powerline lookout view. You can see the metal from the powerline jetting out to the left. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The next obstacle that we encountered was an unhappy bee hive. Joel accidentally stepped on a hive, but fortunately made it pass the bees safely. I was behind him and saw as the bees began to fly out to investigate the raucous. I sat for about 10 minutes and waited for the bees to settle down and then I ran right through the heart of the hive.

Within no time, we were back at the first junction. No doubt, going counterclockwise would have resulted in a shorter, but steeper climb. Going clockwise is nice because you get that nice flat warm up in the beginning and then you confront the long climb up. From here you’re a short way from the start of the trail and the pet cemetery at the Valley of the Temples.

If you live in the Kaneohe area and are looking for a nice workout that’s not too long then try the Ulupaina Trail. Many blog posts suggest that this trail is 4 miles long. However,my GPS revealed that it was just 3.38 miles long. By the way, this was the first time that I used a GPS system on a hike. I opted to go with the MotionX GPS app for the iPhone. The hike should take about 3 hours to complete if you’re going at a nice casual pace. Because of the length, I wouldn’t suggest this hike for very young children, however, it should be suitable for active teens and would make for a nice trail to run on.

The view isn’t always obstructed. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo

Total Time: 2 hours and 38 minutes.

Ulupaina Trail Tips:

  • Don’t forget the mosquito repellent! Certain areas of the this trail run rampant with blood hungry mosquitos.
  • There were a few portions of this trail that were overgrown. This had me wishing that I wore pants. If you go, wear pants!
  • When you’re done, stop over and visit the Byodo-In Temple at the Valley of the Temples.

Directions to the Ulupaina Trail: From Honolulu you will take the H1 west bound and then take exit 20A andmerge onto HI-63 N/Kalihi St toward Likelike Hwy. Take the HI-83/Kahekili Hwy ramp and then merge onto HI-83 W (signs for Kahekilli Hwy). Turn right at East Hui Iwa Street and park along the side of the road. Residential homes will be on your right and McDonald’s will be on your left. Once you’ve parked your car, immediately walk back toward Kehekili Highway and make a left on Kahekili Highway. Remember to stay close to the guard rails as locals love to zip down Kahekili Highway. A few feet after you turn left, you will notice a faint trail next to a private property sign.

The trailhead is located at the very end of the pet cemetary. In the photo here, to the left is kahekili highway and we are standing on the pet cemetery. The bush path leading to nowhere is the start of the Ulupaina Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Before you reach the trailhead, you will pass this creepy tree! Reminds me of Six Feet Under (one of my all time favorite television shows). Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This was my first hike using a GPS system. I experimented with MotionX GPS for the iPhone. It worked nicely. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.


  1. Easily the most accurate and helpful description of this hike available, right down to the bees! Wish I’d read it BEFORE doing the hike. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *